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William Peter Van Ness (February 13, 1778 – September 6, 1826) was a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New York and the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, also notable for serving as Aaron Burr's second in Burr's duel with Alexander Hamilton.

William P. Van Ness
William P. Van Ness.jpg
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
In office
April 9, 1814 – September 6, 1826
Appointed byoperation of law
Preceded bySeat established by 3 Stat. 120
Succeeded bySamuel Rossiter Betts
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New York
In office
May 27, 1812 – April 9, 1814
Appointed byJames Madison
Preceded bySeat established by 2 Stat. 719
Succeeded bySeat abolished
Personal details
Born
William Peter Van Ness

(1778-02-13)February 13, 1778
Claverack, New York
DiedSeptember 6, 1826(1826-09-06) (aged 48)
New York City, New York
Resting placeGreen-Wood Cemetery
Brooklyn, New York
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
Spouse(s)
Anne McEvers (m. 1800–1826)
Children5
RelativesJohn Peter Van Ness (brother)
Cornelius P. Van Ness (brother)
James Van Ness (nephew)
EducationColumbia University
OccupationAttorney

Contents

Education and careerEdit

 
William Peter Van Ness, 1807 engraving by Charles Saint-Mémin

Van Ness was born on February 13, 1778 in a portion of Claverack, New York that later became part of the town of Ghent[1][2][3] Van Ness attended Washington Seminary[4] graduated from Columbia College (now part of Columbia University) in 1797[5] and read law with Edward Livingston in 1800.[1][6][7] He practiced in New York City from 1800 to 1801.[1][8] In 1801, Van Ness served as a delegate to the New York Constitutional Convention, which was called to amend the state constitution of 1777.[9] He continued private practice in Albany, New York starting in 1801 and in Hudson, New York, before resuming private practice in New York City until 1812.[1][8]

Notable legal apprenticeEdit

Martin Van Buren completed his legal studies in Van Ness's office in 1802 and became an attorney in Columbia County, New York.[10]

Relationship with Aaron Burr and participation in duelEdit

Van Ness, a close friend of Aaron Burr, was an active participant in the 1800 presidential campaign as a vocal supporter of the Democratic-Republican Party candidates Burr for Vice President and Thomas Jefferson for President.[11] Burr and Jefferson tied in the electoral college, and the election moved to the United States House of Representatives, where Federalists wanted to defeat their great enemy, Jefferson, by electing Burr as President. Van Ness secretly supported the Federalist plan, but it failed, and Jefferson won the presidency, with Burr chosen for the vice presidency.[12]

In July 1804, Van Ness served as Aaron Burr's second in Burr's duel with Alexander Hamilton.[13] He and Hamilton's second, Nathaniel Pendleton loaded the pistols, and were present when Burr fatally shot Hamilton.[13]

Federal judicial serviceEdit

Van Ness was nominated by President James Madison on May 25, 1812, to the United States District Court for the District of New York, to a new seat authorized by 2 Stat. 719.[1] He was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 26, 1812, and received his commission on May 27, 1812.[1] Van Ness was reassigned by operation of law to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on April 9, 1814, to a new seat authorized by 3 Stat. 120.[1][14] His service terminated on September 6, 1826, due to his death in New York City.[1] He was interred in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery.[15]

Embezzlement investigationEdit

In 1818, the clerk of Van Ness' court, Theron Rudd, who had also worked for Judge Matthias B. Tallmadge was accused of embezzling more than $100,000 (about $1.6 million in 2019) intended to pay court judgments.[16] Upon being discovered, Rudd fled with the money.[16] He later returned to the United States and was prosecuted.[16] He was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor, and the US government obtained a judgment against him, but he never paid it and the money was never recovered.[17]

The investigation into Rudd's theft also considered the issue of Tallmadge's and Van Ness' culpability.[16] Investigators later determined that while they might have been guilty of lax supervision, particularly Van Ness, since Tallmadge had been absent from court because of his extended illness, they were not involved in the theft and were not responsible for Rudd's actions.[16]

Investigation into performanceEdit

Also in 1818, Congress appointed a special committee to look into the official conduct of Van Ness and his judicial colleague, Matthias B. Tallmadge, who apparently did not work well together.[18] The friction between them was largely responsible for the split of New York's district court into southern and northern districts in 1814.[18] Tallmadge was assigned to the northern district, but his frequent ill health often required Van Ness to preside over both courts.[18]

The investigation considered whether Van Ness and Tallmadge were failing to capably perform their duties.[18] The committee determined in February 1819 that Tallmadge had not always held court for the northern district on the dates required by law, but that this was not an impeachable offense.[18] The committee took no further action, and Tallmadge's continued illness caused him to resign in July 1819.[18]

Family and estateEdit

Van Ness was born to Judge Peter Van Ness (1734–1804), a wealthy lawyer and farmer who owned the property in Kinderhook, New York, on which Van Ness constructed a mansion in 1797.[19] Martin Van Buren later purchased the home and land and renamed the estate Lindenwald. Peter Van Ness is buried on the Lindenwald estate.[20] Van Ness's brothers included United States Representative and Washington, D.C. Mayor John Peter Van Ness[21] and Governor of Vermont Cornelius P. Van Ness.[22] In 1800, Van Ness married Anne McEvers (1767–1829) in Red Hook. They were members of the Dutch Reformed Church, and the parents of five children.[23]

AuthorEdit

Van Ness was the author of several political and judicial works, including: Examination of Charges against Aaron Burr (1803); The Laws of New York, with Notes, (with John Woodworth), (2 vols. 1813); Reports of Two Cases in the Prize Court for New York District (1814); and Concise Narrative of Gen. Jackson's First Invasion of Florida (1826).[24]

In popular cultureEdit

Van Ness' role in the Burr–Hamilton duel is referenced in the musical Hamilton as part of the song "The World Was Wide Enough".[25]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Van Ness, William Peter - Federal Judicial Center". www.fjc.gov.
  2. ^ Second Circuit Redbook. New York, NY: Little, Brown & Company. 1984. p. 280.
  3. ^ Butler, Benjamin Franklin; Spencer, John Canfield (1829). The Revised Statutes of the State of New-York. III. Albany, NY: Packard and Van Benthuysen. p. 493.
  4. ^ Gebhard, Elizabeth Louise (1910). "The Parsonage Between Two Manors: Annals of Clover-Reach". Bryan Printing Company. p. 45. Retrieved June 28, 2019 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ "Officers and Graduates ..." Columbia University. 1916. p. 88. Retrieved June 28, 2019 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ Raymond, William (1851). "Biographical Sketches of the Distinguished Men of Columbia County: Including an Account of the Most Important Offices They Have Filled, in the State and General Governments, and in the Army and Navy". Weed, Parsons and Company. p. 33. Retrieved June 28, 2019 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Miller, Peyton Farrell (1904). "A Group of Great Lawyers of Columbia County, New York". Priv. print. pp. 133–135. Retrieved June 28, 2019 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ a b Hough, Franklin Benjamin (September 1, 1974). "American biographical notes, being short notices of deceased persons: chiefly those not included in Allen's or in Drake's biographical dictionaries, gathered from many sources". Harbor Hill Books. p. 404. Retrieved June 28, 2019 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ Littleton, Martin Wilie (1905). "The Democratic Party of the State of New York: A History of the Origin, Growth, and Achievements of the Democratic Party of the State of New York, Including a History of Tammany Hall in Its Relation to State Politics (Volume 1)". United States History Company. p. 47. Retrieved June 28, 2019 – via Google Books.
  10. ^ Hodge, Carl Cavanagh; Nolan, Cathal J. (2007). "U.S. Presidents and Foreign Policy: From 1789 to the Present". ABC-CLIO. p. 73. Retrieved June 28, 2019 – via Google Books.
  11. ^ Adams, Henry (1986). "History of the United States of America During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson". Library of America. p. 417. Retrieved June 28, 2019 – via Google Books.
  12. ^ Thomas N. Baker, "'An Attack Well Directed': Aaron Burr Intrigues for the Presidency." Journal of the Early Republic 31#4 (2011): 553–598.
  13. ^ a b Freeman, Joanne B. (2002). "Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic". Yale University Press. p. 180. Retrieved June 28, 2019 – via Google Books.
  14. ^ Burak, H. Paul (1962). "History of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York" (PDF). pp. 3–4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-09-23. Retrieved 2011-03-05.
  15. ^ Hall, Clayton Colman (1912). "Baltimore: Biography (Volume III)". Lewis Historical Publishing Company. p. 533. Retrieved June 28, 2019 – via Google Books.
  16. ^ a b c d e Report of the Committee Appointed to Inquire Into the Conduct of Judge William P. Van Ness. Washington, DC: U.S. House of Representatives. 1819. p. 1-5.
  17. ^ Legall, Paul (May 28, 2012). "Lawyer's epic legal battle over family's sunken ship revisited". Law Times. Toronto, Canada: HAB Press.
  18. ^ a b c d e f New-York Historical Society (2011). "Historical Note: Matthias B. Tallmadge". Guide to the Matthias B. Tallmadge Papers, 1715-1868. New York, NY: New-York Historical Society Museum and Library.
  19. ^ Brooke, John L. (2013). Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson. UNC Press Books. p. 477. ISBN 9780807838877. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  20. ^ "New York: A Guide to the Empire State". US History Publishers. 1940. pp. 564–565. Retrieved June 28, 2019 – via Google Books.
  21. ^ Mackenzie, William Lyon (1846). "The Life and Times of Martin Van Buren: The Correspondence of His Friends, Family and Pupils; Together with Brief Notices, Sketches, and Anecdotes, Illustrative of the Public Career of James Knox Polk, Benjamin F. Butler ... &c". Cooke & Company. p. 23. Retrieved June 28, 2019 – via Google Books.
  22. ^ Wilbur, La Fayette (1903). "Early History of Vermont (Volume 4)". Roscoe Printing House. p. 124. Retrieved June 28, 2019 – via Google Books.
  23. ^ Hall, Clayton Colman (1912). Baltimore: Biography. Lewis Historical Publishing Company. pp. 533–534. Retrieved September 18, 2017.
  24. ^ Brown, John Howard (1903). "Lamb's Biographical Dictionary of the United States (Volume 7)". James H. Lamb Company. p. 430. Retrieved June 28, 2019 – via Google Books.
  25. ^ "The World Was Wide Enough Lyrics - Hamilton". AllMusicals.com. Retrieved November 11, 2017.

SourcesEdit

External LinksEdit

Legal offices
Preceded by
Seat established by 2 Stat. 719
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New York
1812–1814
Succeeded by
Seat abolished
Preceded by
Seat established by 3 Stat. 120
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
1814–1826
Succeeded by
Samuel Rossiter Betts